by Riley Webster
Most of us have experienced some degree of anxiety in our lifetime, which can manifest as shallow, panicky breathing, excessive and repetitive worrying, trouble sleeping, or overwhelming feelings of fear and dread.
It’s no surprise that over 2.8 million Canadians struggle with anxiety. In our fast-paced culture that measures success by the amount you can achieve and produce, many of us can get caught in the vicious cycle of over-working and over-committing, all while comparing our lives to the highlight reels we see on social media.
Everyone has a different threshold for how much stress they can handle, and not all stress is bad stress. Before you get worried about being worried, or anxious about being anxious, understand this: Some anxiety is a normal part of life.
For example, we sometimes need that push from our stress hormone, cortisol, to spring us into action or motivate us to prepare for a job interview. However, when we remain in the sympathetic, ‘fight-or-flight’ mode of the nervous system, it can be difficult to come back into balance.
According to Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds, anxiety is not a problem. However, she explains that the problem occurs when the nervous system becomes dysregulated, leading to exacerbated feelings of anxiousness and difficulty coping.
While the causes of anxiety can vary, it’s most commonly due to stress, poor nutrition, imbalanced hormones, side effects from medication, genetic predisposition, and excess stimulants, like caffeine.
The good news is that there are many tools we can use to relieve anxiety. Here are a few recommendations:
Exercise allows you to get out of your head (the thinking) and into your body (the being). Plus, it releases endorphins, your body’s ‘feel-good’ chemicals, reduces cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and helps to improve mood and sleep. If you choose a movement practice you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to make it part of your daily life. Yoga, running, walking, hiking, and team sports are all great forms of exercise that can help to relieve feelings of overwhelm commonly attributed with anxiety.
When you get anxious, it’s normal to experience shallow chest breathing. Deep, abdominal breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the body, which helps to bring the nervous system back into balance. Make a commitment to practice ten minutes of abdominal breathing every day when you wake up, or at the onset of anxious symptoms like racing thoughts or feelings of panic and fear.
Anxiety can arise when you forget your connection with life and instead feel separate and disconnected. Spending time in nature can remind you of this connection, reduce your production of stress hormones, and help to create feelings of overall well-being. Whether you simply take a walk outside, listen to nature sounds on your Spotify playlist or try forest bathing, a wildly-popular Japanese phenomenon that involves being in nature and taking it in with all your senses, you may find peace and relaxation. According to a Harvard Medical School study, “even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body's fight-or-flight response.”
Nutrition (or lack thereof) may impact your experience of anxiety. When you rely on foods like sugar to regulate your nervous system, you send a message to the limbic part of the brain, which is responsible for emotions, that you need this substance in order to feel good. Not only can this neural response impact your behaviour, it can lead to developing insulin resistance or a blood sugar imbalance, which may impact your stress levels. According to Dr. Marvin Singh, a poor diet can create an imbalance in the gut microbiome, which is where the root cause of anxiety can stem from. Feel more grounded by reducing your intake of refined sugar and upping your intake of whole, nutrient-dense foods.
Cannabis has two natural compounds: THC, the intoxicating compound, and CBD, the non-intoxicating compound. CBD may help to relieve anxiety since it can activate serotonin receptors, which are neurotransmitters that increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing. It also aids the body’s endocannabinoid system in maintaining homeostasis, meaning it helps to regulate balanced physiological responses. Plus, CBD can encourage the brain to form new neurons and connections by boosting neural regeneration, particularly in the hippocampus which is associated with memory and emotion.
Riley Webster is a writer, editor, yoga teacher, and host of the Ignite Your Light podcast. She is passionate about holistic wellness, and believes in the healing power of cannabis for mind-body health. When Riley isn’t working, you can find her practicing yoga, working on creative projects, or in nature.